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Singapore trials pilotless drones for social distancing monitoring amidst Covid-19 pandemic

11:18 | 10/08/2020

Singapore’s police have been trialling two pilotless drones developed by Israel’s Airobotics to help enforce social distancing measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.

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Singapore’s police have been trialling two pilotless drones developed by Israel’s Airobotics to help enforce social distancing measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.

The small machines weigh 10 kg (22 pounds) and are programmed to track anomalies such as gatherings and stream footage to the police, Reuters reported.

The three-and-a-half-month trial, over an industrial estate in the west of the city, is the first time automated commercial drones have been approved to fly over a major metropolis, according to Airobotics.

singapore trials pilotless drones for social distancing monitoring amidst covid 19 pandemic
The small machines weigh 10 kg (22 pounds) and are programmed to track anomalies such as gatherings and stream footage to the police. Photo: insideunmannedsystems

“Specifically for COVID, what we are doing is helping them maintain normal operations,” CEO Ran Krauss told Reuters. “The pandemic created a situation where it might be difficult for police to maintain operations.”

Singapore government’s Home Team Science & Technology Agency (HTX) said it had trialled the drones with police.

They can pinpoint locations and zoom into areas that might not be visible to police officers on foot or in vehicles, Senior Engineer Low Hsien Meng from HTX’s Robotics, Automation & Unmanned Systems Centre, said.

People today understand large public gatherings are probably the No. 1 spreading method of this pandemic,” Krauss said. “So, making sure that doesn’t occur is part of what we’re helping to do in Singapore.” One of Israeli-based Airobotics’ offices is located in Singapore.

The automated drone technology broadcasts real-time aerial data, speeding up the feedback process so the Singapore Police Forece (SPF) can quickly make informed decisions.

singapore trials pilotless drones for social distancing monitoring amidst covid 19 pandemic
Airobotics CEO Ran Krauss. Photo: Reuters

Because the system is flying in an urban environment, safety is crucial and is one of the reasons the Airobotics unmanned aerial system (UAS) is so well suited for this type of mission, Krauss said. It also offers the endurance such flights require.

The platform, which is made up of three parts, makes it possible to run missions automatically and to monitor, inspect, survey and secure urban areas, as well as industrial facilities. Optimus, the company’s large, high capacity drone capable of flying 45-minute missions while carrying a one-kilogram payload, launches from and lands on the automated base station, or Airbase, without human intervention. The platform’s integrated, dynamic software makes it easy to control and manage missions.

Airobotics, which has raised USD 120 million in funding, said it had invested some USD 100 million to develop the drones. It was leasing them to HTX and also for business and industrial use in Israel and the United States, it said.

singapore trials pilotless drones for social distancing monitoring amidst covid 19 pandemic
An employee of Airobotics, an Israeli company which says it has developed two pilotless drones that are being trialled by Singapore's police to help enforce social distancing measures aimed at containing the spread of the COVID-19, works at the company's laboratory in Petah Tikva, Israel. Photo: Reuters

Airobotics and HTX have begun the next, year-long stage of the project to explore further capabilities, including using the drones to deliver defibrillators where needed, the company said.

Airobotics said the social distancing aspect of the trial was still ongoing. HTX did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

The tiny island nation, known for its strict laws and widespread surveillance, initially won global praise for containing virus spread before mass outbreaks in cramped migrant worker dormitories saw its caseload climb sharply.

Krauss said Airobotics is in talks with other cities to deploy the drones./.

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